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Mad About Saffron

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Mad About Saffron
Photos by Andrea Behrends

MEAT AND THREE IN A TIFFIN BOX

Maneet Chauhan was destined to open Chauhan Ale & Masala House. Her restaurant in Nashville, which debuted in November of 2014, celebrates her adopted city’s cuisine through the filter of India, the country where she grew up and first learned to appreciate how the cooking traditions of one region could be enhanced by blending them with the customs of another.

“My parents always joked that I was born with a ladle in my hand,” she says. “I’ve loved food and cooking for as long as I can remember. I grew up in a small town in eastern India called Ranchi. In the colony where we lived there were people from all over India who came to this region to work, and every state in India has a distinct cuisine of its own. As a kid, I would finish dinner at home, then go to a neighbor’s house and tell them, ‘Mom hasn’t given me anything to eat, can I eat at your place?’ It fascinated me to sit in their kitchen and watch them cook. I would ask questions about the cooking process, learning about new techniques, ingredients, and traditions along the way.”

NASHVILLE’S IRRESISTABLE CHARM

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Chef Chauhan shops the Nashville Farmer's Market

Nashville might seem like an odd trajectory for a chef who relocated to the United States to attend the Culinary Institute of America, work her way through high-volume kitchens in Chicago and New York City, and eventually land a spot as a judge on Food Network’s cooking competition show Chopped, but there was a practical reason for Chauhan to relocate and once she did, she could not resist Nashville’s charms.

“After many years of running restaurants for others, I decided that it was time to go out on my own,” she explains. “I’ve noticed that many of the ‘celebrity chefs’ open their restaurants in the same cities and then fight for market share. But there are amazing middle-sized cities around the country where people have just as keen an interest in exploring new and exciting cuisine and whom I feel are being underserved. This is why my exploration took me to Nashville. Once I arrived, I fell in love with the city, its cooking traditions, and the people.”

WHEN PORK BELLY MET MASALA

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Meat and Three Tiffin Box

Chauhan’s new restaurant is a realized dream that she has been planning for years. She explains, “Chauhan Ale & Masala House is an Indian Gastropub. The menu has both traditional Indian favorites as well as some signature preparations that I have been perfecting over the years. The Garam Masala Pork Belly with Apple-Frisée Salad and Tamarind Gastrique as well as the Heirloom Roasted Beet Salad with Coconut Pachadi and the Guava Glazed BBQ Ribs are a few of my favorites.

”The dish on the menu that best marries Indian and Southern cuisine is “Meat and Three” served in a traditional Indian tiffin box. “The dish represents elements that are important to the food cultures of both India and Nashville,” she says. “It is served in a tiffin carrier, which is a metal lunch box with different compartments that has become an iconic symbol of lunchtime food in Mumbai.”

The food is also what inspired the restaurant’s colorful and energetic ambiance. Chauhan says, “The vibrant colors of the spices used in our dishes set the tone for our interior design. I wanted the restaurant to feel like it has been a part of the Nashville food scene for years while also creating an atmosphere that could be found in India. One of the ways we do this is to embed masala dabbas, or Indian spice boxes, into the booth tables throughout the restaurant.”

SAFFRON AND ROSES

It is not just food and décor that is destined to make Chauhan Ale & Masala House a favorite of the Nashville food scene. Chauhan says, “There is a strong emphasis on beer and craft cocktails inspired by India. My husband, Vivek Deora, and I spent the past year incorporating Indian spice blends and aromatics into our beers, resulting in brews such as garam masala, rose and jalapeño, saffron cardamom, chai porter, curry coconut, and mango mint.”

“Indian cuisine is very difficult to pair with wine because of the complex flavor of the food, so unless you have exactly the right wine, the spices will overpower it”, she explains.

“When Vivek and I started thinking about this concept, we traveled down memory lane and realized that our dads and uncles always drank beer with their meals, never wine. We decided to take this idea to the next level by working with local brewers to infuse our beer with the flavors and colors of India.”

The concept behind Chauhan Ale & Masala House was born long ago in the mind of a young girl who loved nothing more than to cook with her neighbors. It was in their kitchens that she learned that recipes are meant to evolve, changing with the time and place where they’re prepared. Chauhan has carried this lesson with her throughout her successful career and  has made good on it at her new restaurant. There is another bit of wisdom that she also carries with her from childhood: “My parents always told me to do what you love, no matter what it is, just be sure that you excel and are the best at it. That is a mantra that I follow to this date.” Clearly the little girl from Ranchi took this advice to heart.

Chef Chauhan’s Recipes

MEAT AND THREE
Grandma’s Black Lentils
Shrimp Moilee
Rice Pulao
Saag Paneer
Apple Mint Raita

SAVORY
Garam Masala Pork Belly with Apple Frisée Salad and Tamarind Gastrique
Farm Fresh Beets with Mustard Yogurt Pachadi
Beet Cauliflower Croquette with Black-Eyed Pea and Collard Curry

SWEETS + DRINKS
Mango Vanilla Lassi
Masala Chai
Cardamom Saffron Bhapa Dohi Pot de Creme / Indian Steamed Yogurt Pudding
Naan Kithai / Indian Shortbread Cookies

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My parents always told me to do what you love, no matter what it is, just be sure that you excel and are the best at it. That is a mantra that I follow to this date. - Chef Maneet Chauhan

Mentioned in this post:
Maneet Chauhan